It has been nearly 30 years since poet Charles Wright began working on his proposed Dantean trilogy of trilogies. The first trilogy was collected in Country Music, which received the National Book Award in 1983, the second in The World of Ten Thousand Things, and the first two volumes of the third trilogy, Chickamauga and Black Zodiac, were published last year. Black Zodiac won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998. Appalachia brings to a conclusion this monumental poem. Appalachia
poems by Charles Wright
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20 Whether read as epic or as individual poems within individual books, Wright's poetry is like that of no one else presently writing. He is less directly autobiographical, less ego-centered, and more philosophically inquisitive than almost any of his contemporaries. His poems are direct, uncluttered, and strikingly luminous in their ability to reveal tension between a materialistic reality and questions of faith. In "Ars Poetica II" he writes, "I find, after all these years, I am a believer—/I believe that dreams are real,/ and that death has two reprisals;/I believe that dead leaves and black water fill my heart./. . . God is the fire my feet are held to." With crisp, vital imagery and an ear that was trained on the prosody of Ezra Pound ("the line composed by the musical phrase, not by the metronome"), Wright's poems turn on their flawless phrasing with surprising grace. He has read extensively in both Eastern and Western poetic philosophical traditions, but wears his erudition as easily and comfortably and disarmingly as an old robe. Ultimately facing his own inevitable demise, he observes, "I inhabit who I am, as T'ao Ch'ing says, and walk about/Under the mindless clouds./When it ends, it ends. What else?/One morning I'll leave home and never find my way back—/My story and I will disappear together, just like this." But of course he is wrong, and he knows it. Wright's story will not end. In literature, the story of the poem never ends. Great poetry joins great poetry to become a part of our cultural and personal storehouse of wisdom. Wright's magnificent trilogy of trilogies will live on, as we continue to ask the same questions we have always asked of poetry: How can we live and love? Wright's wisdom and music and brilliance will doubtless be among the artifacts of our time that show a way for those to follow.